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From my previous post, you probably gathered I didn’t have the smoothest time traveling in Italy. It certainly wasn’t a complete bust – far from it – but partially due to the way things worked out and partially because of my own fault, it wasn’t the most enjoyable or simplestt trip I’ve had either. In fact, I made plenty of mistakes or poor choices that I could have easily avoided.
To be specific I:
I totally saw it coming but still let it happen and then was annoyed with not only the situation but with myself. I’ve been smart and lucky in my travels and have never had any horror stories to tell involving scams, thefts, missed trains, or even lost luggage…but within two hours of first landing in Italy, I was out €20 and pissed off. Rushing from the airport to catch my train up to Florence I arrived at Roma Termini (Rome’s main train station) tired, running late, obviously looking around for the right platform and with my large back pack. A ‘kind stranger’ saw me and guessed I was heading to Florence then started leading the way (though I had already figured out where I need to be), after glancing at my ticket and finding the correct car he then followed me on the train. While at first I had thought he was just genuinely helping out, pointing me in the right direction, as soon as he got on the train I figured out what was happening. For ‘helping’ me find my exact seat (unasked) he then demanded payment saying it was his ‘job’. Bull shit. Yet instead of blatantly calling him out I was apologetic for not having small money (I had just gone to the ATM), said I couldn’t give him anything and showed him the €20 note in my pocket – *yoink* – he and the money were gone. Rookie move. The fact that the other passengers in the train car, mainly Italian businessmen, noticed what was going on and didn’t step in was equally annoying. Not the best way to start the trip, but at least I learned my lesson early on, and if that’s the worst scam I’ve come across, then that’s just fine.
Between living in an area where everything is laid out for tourists and booking this trip last minute, I underestimated how much planning and research I really should have been doing. The result: I spent precious travel time inside on my computer trying to figure out what to do next and spent more money than I would have if I had researched transportation and accommodation options or what activities I really wanted to devote my budget to.
I’m a firm believer in guidebooks and think anyone who travels without them or claims they find everything by searching the internet and reading blogs is doing themselves a great disservice. So what’s my excuse for not having one? First of all, I couldn’t find one to purchase in Chiang Mai. When I arrived in Italy I went straight to visit my cousin – my living guidebook – and used a book of hers for the first few weeks traveling around Florence and Tuscany. When I moved on from that area I only had a few stops and was too cheap to buy a book for my last week.
Because of that however, I planned a side trip to Bologna before realizing train tickets were surprisingly expensive compared to the train rides I had previously ridden, I didn’t know what the vaporetto (public water bus) was when I arrived in Venice and didn’t purchase a pass right away because I didn’t know if it’d be worth it (and therefore ended up spending way more over three days than I should have or would have) and didn’t have a map in Rome for the first day since I was staying at an apartment which didn’t supply any information.
If I had had a guidebook I would have saved money and time instead trying to figure things out on my own with random Google searches.
I’ve never traveled to a different country with a phone thinking it would never be worth it – why would I use it when when I can contact my family, make travel plans and book accommodation online? Also, not so long ago, everyone survived without cell phones just fine, so I don’t see the point.
While I still don’t think having a phone would have been completely necessary for me, it’s something I would reccomend others consider if they’re going to be traveling in Italy and moving around a lot. Many of the hotels I booked asked me to call them when I was on my way to the property and I didn’t get responses back from email or online accommodation requests.
I saved Rome until the end of my trip thinking after weeks in the country, getting to know it with my cousin and exploring smaller towns on my own, I would be more comfortable tackling the city instead of being thrown into it straight off the plane and on my own. I think it was a smart move, but I didn’t spend nearly enough time in the Eternal City which turned out to be one of my favorite and most enjoyable parts of the trip.
Total I was there for the three days and three nights, however I was really only able to explore for two full days with half days on either end spent getting to and from my accommodation, planning and packing. Since I had booked several tours I was able to see and do several interesting things (like learn to make pasta and ride through Rome on the back of a Vespa), but I barely had time to wander on my own. I didn’t go to any museums or markets, I didn’t eat in any restaurants or go out at night, and I didn’t even make it close to the Vatican. Next time.
There’s no way I could have gotten around this one, but I wouldn’t recommend others traveling solo through the country the way I did. The accommodation I chose (or what was available) was often expensive or isolating, and many of the places I visited, like the little preserved medieval town of Lucca, would have been much more interesting and enjoyable with someone. Much of Italy’s appeal is soaking up the idyllic ambience…but there’s only so much strolling around you can do by yourself before you want someone to drink a bottle of wine with.
That isn’t to say you couldn’t or shouldn’t go to Italy alone, I would just do it differently either looking for courses or programs, like WWOOF-ing, to participate in and couch surfing rather than pricey hostels or entire B&Bs where you’re the only one in the building.
Have anything to add to this list of mistakes or tips on how to go about traveling in Italy the right way? Share them in the comments below!